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Thank You Thursday: Taking the thank yous home

An interior designer’s idea to treat frontline NHS workers to a stylish room makeover has taken on a life of its own

THE best ideas often come when you least expect them, as interior designer Francesca Rowan-Plowden (rowanplowden.com) can testify. She normally spends her working days redoing historic stately piles and private homes, but stuck indoors in a high-risk household with four boys aged between four and 14, she’d been racking her brains for ways to give something back during the pandemic. Her lightbulb moment came three weeks into lockdown, when charitable initiative Design Havens For Heroes was born.

Made up: Francesca Rowan-Plowden has enlisted 450 brands to join her project

‘I wanted to be able to help, using my creative background, but couldn’t work out how to contribute,’ she explains. ‘I kept thinking that we were very lucky to stay at home where we were safe, while frontline workers were risking their lives. Then, one night, I realised that my way of thanking these NHS heroes would be to makeover rooms in their homes, giving them havens that they can escape to and unwind in. I messaged all my interiors contacts — other designers, stylists, suppliers, tradespeople, makers and brands — asking if they wanted to get involved by donating time, expertise or products, and set up an Instagram page asking for nominations for NHS workers. My plan was to pool all these people, talents and resources and do the room makeovers once the pandemic was over.’

Spruce up: Many NHS workers will have homes transformed by the scheme

But Francesca completely underestimated the power of social media, and how many people would offer to help. ‘I hit on a nerve, something other people were feeling. It went viral. Within days, I’d had over 300 messages from designers, and Instagram was so busy that one evening it crashed,’ she says. ‘I was amazed at the response.’

The premise of Design Havens For Heroes is quite simple: designers, influencers and stylists are matched with nominated NHS staff and the process of transforming a room of their choice begins. ‘We expect to focus mainly on bedrooms, living rooms, family and kids’ rooms and are hoping to allocate nominees with designers who aren’t based too far away from them, as they will need to visit their homes, but obviously this isn’t possible until lockdown has been lifted,’ says Francesca.

Transformed: Receive a new blind from blinds2go; below: revamp a bedroom

To date, around 450 brands have signed up to the collective. Among them are some of the biggest and best-known names in interiors, ranging from high-end to high street, including Tom Dixon, Colefax and Fowler, Farrow & Ball, Designers Guild, Neptune, Graham & Brown, Topps Tiles, Sofa.com, Carpetright, blinds2go and Holloways of Ludlow.

These companies will very generously be providing paint, wallpaper, tiles, textiles, flooring, furniture, window treatments, lighting and accessories to redecorate and kit out the new-look rooms. Over 350 interior designers have come on board, brand ambassadors have been appointed to raise awareness, and a team of 25 volunteers is coordinating everything behind the scenes.

The list of brand ambassadors for Design Havens For Heroes reads like a who’s who of the interiors world. Nina Campbell, one of the most influential and respected designers in her field, and author, TV presenter and former editor-in-chief of ELLE Decoration UK, Michelle Ogundehin, are on it, as is Kate Watson-Smyth, a familiar face to style addicts in need of a regular fix. She’s scooped multiple awards for her madaboutthehouse.com blog, has over 230,000 followers on Instagram and recently launched her third book, Mad About The House: 101 Interior Design Answers. ‘When this is over, giving something back is such a brilliant idea,’ she says.

The restrictions of social distancing haven’t prevented makeovers from getting underway remotely. One of the first is at the home of a doctor, where Amy Davies Pereira, creator of interior and lifestyle blog littlehouseinlondon.com is working her magic. And with hundreds of NHS heroes nominated so far to be treated to a relaxing home haven, the transformations are set to continue long into the future.

‘There’s no deadline on nominations and Design Havens For Heroes is here to support the NHS not only now, but for the long term,’ explains Francesca. ‘As long as we have the designers and brands, we will continue to create the havens. We are in this together.’

Tradespeople, designers and suppliers wanting to volunteer time, services or products can send a direct message via Instagram, or email fabrics@designhavensforheroes.org.uk (trades); designers@designhavensforheroes.org.uk (designers) or brands@designhavensforheroes.org.uk (brands & suppliers)​. To donate money towards a fund supporting the trades helping with the havens, go to paypal.com/pools/c/8ozltUyFHU. designhavensforheroes.org.uk. To nominate a frontline NHS worker for a room makeover, tag in an Instagram post @designhavensforheroes or email nominations@designhavensforheroes.org.uk